reviously better known in her native Australia, Margo Lanagan became instantly famous over here with the publication in 2009 of Tender Morsels. Starting out with a sexual encounter
between a dwarf and a witch before going on to incest, a graphically painful miscarriage and gang rape, this was always going to be a controversial novel. Some critics felt that the publisher’s warning appearing on the inside jacket about potentially distressing scenes did not go far enough. Appearing under two covers, one for children and the other for adults, this re-telling of the brothers Grimm story ‘Snow White and Rose Red’ eventually won over many readers with its fine writing and poetic vision of the past.
Margo has now written another potentially explosive novel, The Brides of Rollrock Island, to be published
have usually had more to put up with.
‘ Women ’
Margo Lanagan interviewed by Nick Tucker
birth as seals leaving only the boys to make up succeeding generations.
Talking to Margo in Australia via Skype is a far jollier experience all round. My first question concerned the sea hearts; what exactly were the ‘sea hearts’ that the local children used to gather each morning to make up the family diet. What are they?
‘I made them up. I was walking along a beach and you know those clumps of sea stuff you see, shells, sea weed and so forth? I thought it would be interesting if there were people who ate them for real.’
Such people would of course have included the beautiful half seal, half human selkies, taken by Margo from Northern legend and given new life in her story. But why did she portray them as so passive? Is she making the point that until recently most women’s lives, whether selkies or not, were on the whole oppressive and always subject to masculine whim?
‘Women have usually had more to put up with, not least that they kept on having babies. But on the whole I believe that history shows that most people were horribly trapped, male or female. But the seal women I write about are more than usually passive, I agree. And the men do love them; it’s not in that sense an abusive relationship. Except that the women would much rather be seals again.’
So what is this trap that most humans have become caught up in? Poverty? A sick culture? Deviant psychology?
‘I think it is all of those things, mixed together in a horrible mash. Those at the top of the tree have always had this habit of saying “Well, that’s all sorted” when for most of the rest it’s not sorted at all. So it’s only when something really shocking happens that people decide something more should be done and start working on it.’
If you were to write a realistic novel set in Australia today, would this be your picture there too?
in February by David Fickling. This equally striking story is set in an island community whose fishermen for a price can get the local witch to provide them with beautiful, complaisant mermaid versions of the Stepford Wives. This suits the men fine (‘God, woman, what are you doing to me!’) but it is hard both on their former wives and on the sea creatures themselves, who had once been seals and always longed to return to the waves. But this they cannot do so until they are re-united with their former skins, now kept securely under lock and key. Gradually the island turns sour, with girl babies immediately returned to the sea after
14 Books for Keeps No.191 November 2011
‘I don’t know. It’s only when I get into a story that the concerns I have start bubbling up. In Tender Morsels I knew there was going to be some sort of revenge, but I didn’t know what type it would be. And when I did get to it, it was incredible fun to write! Even though it was completely immoral it worked so beautifully in terms of the plot!’ Margo is actually laughing at this point, despite the fact that the revenge she is talking about here is when the male rapists of the early chapters are eventually sodomised in return as part of their terrible punishment. On the page, this is a powerfully disturbing moment. But with Margo, the story always comes first, wherever it may be leading her. And now, as a leading international fantasy writer, she has a growing audience that might not have been available had she stuck to stories with a strictly Australian setting.
You seem to have quite a dark vision of human existence coupled with a truly joyful feeling for language. You also come over as someone who really
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